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International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG): Working in coalition to push back against national security overreach in Canada

Type | Coalition response
Region | Americas
Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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ICLMG developed strategies to advocate for greater accountability and transparency in Canada, and to resist the overreach of national security.

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The coalition’s aim is to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties in the context of the so-called ‘war on terror’. Since its creation, ICLMG has been a platform for exchange among organisations and communities affected by the application of national security laws.

This case study looks at how this long-standing coalition has developed, and the strategies it has used to advocate for greater accountability and transparency in Canada, and to resist the overreach of national security.

Maintaining energy long-term
In being such a long-standing coalition, ICLMG sees a high turnover of representatives from member organisations engaging with the campaigns and activities. The secretariat has to serve as a shared institutional memory for the policy positions that organisations have taken, and there is a challenge inherent in having to remind members of past engagement and in encouraging renewed participation.

Maintaining funding long-term
Turnover in representatives, alongside financial constraints faced by members, has meant that maintaining a consistent and increasing level of funding takes ongoing work.

Technical nature of work
Coalition members generally recognise the importance of the work undertaken by ICLMG, but it can be challenging to translate this into support amongst the general public, particularly in order to build pressure to change laws and policies. However this presents opportunities for the coalition to think through how to articulate the problems clearly.

Value of institutional memory
Long-standing campaigns need a consistent coordination mechanism driving and leading the work. ICLMG was the only institution with a detailed memory of the key moments between 2001 and 2017, and they were able to link this important history and background to the present day work, ensuring that the learning from years of advocacy informed the demands of civil society when the opportunity to participate arose.

Common discourse is vital

At the time of ICLMG’s founding, the language and discourse around national security and civil liberties was in flux. By developing a common set of principles, policy goals and public discourse, the coalition was able to have an impact on the framing of these issues, particularly in the media.

Flexible structure
Despite existing for 20 years, the ICLMG coalition has never formally incorporated as a standalone institution. Staff has been housed and employed by several different member organisations, including Inter Pares. Likewise, the coalition’s finances have been administered by a succession of member organisations. Functioning in this way has allowed the coalition to remain responsive and agile, and allowed for coalition staff to have much needed administrative support. This places a higher level of importance on institutional memory and individual involvement.


  • Coalition members came to a consensus on every question in the national consultation, meaning that everyone was on the same page in their advocacy efforts.

  • The introduction of a Review Agency was finally included in the National Security Act of 2017 and the Agency was then established in 2019. Although the coalition is critical of many of the other changes brought in through the Act, for example the increasing of surveillance powers, the inclusion of the Review Agency is a success. Its introduction means there will be one body with the power to look across the collaborative work of multiple security agencies, providing greater accountability and transparency, and therefore, protection.

  • This has an impact beyond issues of rendition. There are agencies that work closely together on issues pertaining to domestic security, ranging from what is typically considered to be counter-terror activity through to the policing of protests against extraction or the policing of indigenous communities. A lack of oversight of these agencies’ collaborative work leads to a greater risk of damaging practice that could shrink civic space for progressive civic actors. The mandate of the new review agency offers the potential for deeper investigation and broader accountability, which should also act as a deterrent to agencies participating in collusion and corruption, including coordinating anti-terrorism activities with their US counterparts that may be unlawful.

Type | Coalition response     Region | Americas     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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